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The Expositor's Bible: The Epistles of St. Peter Part 15

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Peter's, by the light of the words of Jesus, to read their full purport into these prophetic messages, and to teach those upon whom the ends of the ages are come that all these things will have their consummation in that coming of the Lord which shall be the close of these latter days.

When thus considered his description contains many striking details.

"The heavens will pa.s.s away." Christ Himself had so spoken, not of heaven only, but of the earth also. His word was the same which Peter employs, but He used it in the same sentence thus: "My word will not pa.s.s away" (Matt. xxiv. 35). That is the one thing to which we may trust. All else will be destroyed or changed. Only those who are in Christ will be fit for the new order. For them old things are pa.s.sed away; behold, they are become new (2 Cor. v. 17). They have been purified by the fire of the Holy Spirit, and so can abide the day of Christ's coming.

To describe the dread process he has a striking word, which, like so many of the Apostle's expressions, is used nowhere else in the New Testament: "With a great noise" (?????d??). It is applied to many sounds of terror: to the hurtling of weapons as they fly through the air; to the sound of a lash as it is brought down for the blow; to the rushing of waters; to the hissing of serpents. He has chosen it as if by it he would unite many horrors in one.

Then the thought of nature's dissolution. All that was bound together at the Creation, and then received a law of cohesion which sustained it thenceforth, will be cast loose, the compacted world dissolved.

These things have been thought of as emblems of stability. G.o.d hath made the round world so fast that it cannot be moved (Psalm civ. 5), but He who made can also unmake. How foolish then must they be who bound their thoughts and aims by what the world can give, making themselves thereby of the earth, earthy, and so sure to fail when that is destroyed. And what are those works that are in the earth of which the Apostle speaks? Do the words mean no more than "the world and all that therein is," a phrase so common in Scripture? At first sight it appears so. But some most ancient ma.n.u.scripts, instead of "shall be burned up," read "shall be discovered." Of this the Revised Version takes note on its margin. From this reading the mind goes to the words of the Preacher, "G.o.d shall bring every work into judgement, with every hidden thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil" (Eccles.

xii. 14). The sense is thus bound closer with the coming of the day of the Lord.

_Seeing that these things are thus all to be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy living and G.o.dliness?_ The Apostle says more than "are to be dissolved." His word signifies "are being dissolved." The event is so sure, and the interests involved so weighty, that he speaks of it as present, that thus he may more forcibly urge his lesson of preparation. "What manner of persons ought ye to be?" Christ had supplied the answer, and so St. Peter gives none: "Let your loins be girded about, and your lamps burning, and ye yourselves like unto men looking for their lord" (Luke xii. 25). The figures imply readiness for any service, most of all, to an Eastern mind, readiness to set forth on a journey. Such should ever be the att.i.tude of those who are but sojourners and pilgrims. And by his words the Apostle intimates how this preparedness should enter into every relation of the Christian life. The translation says, "in _all_ holy living and G.o.dliness"; but in the Greek there is no word for _all_. Literally the words are "in holy conversations and G.o.dlinesses." In English we could not use words thus. Hence the device of the translators to come as near to the sense as is possible. But if we carry with us the thought contained in these plural words, we see how St. Peter teaches by them that in our daily life and work as well as in our religious exercises we should be ever watchful, ever ready.

Our life with men and with G.o.d should be stamped as "Holiness unto the Lord." By such a walk we shall keep ourselves apart from sinners, and be helped thus far to keep away from sin. And the G.o.dliness of which he speaks springs, as he has already taught (i. 6) in this Epistle, from a patient waiting on the Lord. Thus the whole att.i.tude of the Christian becomes one of wakeful readiness. He is of those of whom it is said, "Blessed are those servants whom their lord when he cometh shall find watching."

_Looking for and earnestly desiring the coming of the day of G.o.d, by reason of which the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat._ The question of the mockers, "Where is the promise of His coming?" will not disturb those whose lives are thus made ready. That coming fills their every thought, moulds every desire, controls and chastens every action. For not only do they look for it: they long for it, and earnestly desire it. For to be with Christ is far better. Hence they hear of the melting elements and the fires of heaven without alarm. With them it is as with the Hebrew children in the days of Nebuchadnezzar. The fires which others dread, and by reason of which the heavens dissolve and the elements melt, will have no power over them save to loose their bonds, to free them from the burden of the flesh, to further that change from the natural to the spiritual which St. Paul teaches we must all undergo; while with them there will be the Son of G.o.d. And thus they will attain to their desire, and become partakers of the Divine nature.

But the translation "earnestly desiring" by no means exhausts the significance and solemnity of St. Peter's word. The Authorised Version rendered it "hasting unto the coming of the day of G.o.d"; but the word "unto" is not in the Greek, though the verb means "hastening." The word is found in the LXX. of Isa. xvi. 5, where the Authorised Version translates the Hebrew by "hasting righteousness" and the Revised by "swift to do righteousness." But though a king, as in that pa.s.sage, may be said to hasten righteousness by being swift to do it, is there any sense in which men could be said to hasten the coming of the day of G.o.d? It seems as though Christ intended to set such an aim before His servants. Before He was crucified He spake that prophetic promise, "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me." When He had been lifted up on the cross and as a testimony to His G.o.dhead, lifted up from the grave, He gave His commission to the Apostles: "Go ye therefore and make disciples of all the nations.... Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." He promised His Spirit also to be their Guide into all truth.

Thus were they sent to be heralds of and labourers for his kingdom; and one of them has testified to the abundance of the aid bestowed: "I can do all things through Christ that giveth me power." But he who thus spake could say to his converts, "Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ" (1 Cor. xi. 1). In this way men can lift up Christ; in this way can they draw men to Him. And to do this by examples of holy living and G.o.dliness is the work which He has committed to His Church, to let the light of Christian lives shine before men in such wise that they may be won for Him. And when we see His kingdom's slow advance, St. Peter's question is turned into a reproach, "What manner of men ought ye to be?"

_But, according to His promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness._ All creation was marred at the Fall. It groaneth and travaileth until now in pain along with the sons of men. It was made subject unto vanity, but that was by reason of G.o.d, who made it thus subject in hope that it shall be delivered, along with man, from the bondage of corruption. And that victory was promised from the first. The seed of the woman shall not always be the spoil of the serpent. The world was in many ways kept alive to this thought. A race was promised from whom all nations should be blessed.

G.o.d established a kingdom to represent His rule in the world, and at length Isaiah was inspired to tell of new heavens and a new earth (Isa. lxv. 17). He too foresaw that this was for a reign of righteousness, that it pointed to a time when the wickedness of the wicked had come to an end: "The sun shall be no more thy light by day, neither the moon by night; for the Lord shall be thy everlasting light, and as for thy people, they shall all be righteous." And Christ while on earth endorsed the prophetic word: "I go to prepare a place for you. I will come again and receive you unto Myself, that where I am, there shall My servant be."

Hence St. Peter says, "According to His promise we look forward." And by using the same he identifies the new heavens and the new earth with the coming of the day of G.o.d. The believer heeds no more the mockers who ask, "Where is the promise of His coming?" He can look and lift up his head, a.s.sured that his redemption draweth nigh. For his expectation has been fostered through a life of holy conversation and G.o.dliness, and the a.s.surance of the day of G.o.d is firm, for the kingdom of G.o.d is set up within him.

And the consolation of the promise consists largely in the thought that in the new creation righteousness will dwell, will make its home.

First, there will be Christ the righteous, who is also our righteousness; and all the hindrances and stumbling-blocks of this life will be removed. Here the sojourners and pilgrims abide for the time amid many foes and countless perils; then they will be delivered even from their own frailties. As their home is new-created, so they shall become new creatures. So their thought, their prayer, their struggle, is ever, _Sursum corda_; and day by day they are bound less to earth and realise more of heaven.

"The distant landscape draws not nigh For all our gazing, but the soul That upward looks may still descry Nearer each day the brightening goal."

x.x.x

"_BE YE STEDFAST, UNMOVABLE._"

"Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for these things, give diligence that ye may be found in peace, without spot and blameless in His sight. And account that the long-suffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given to him, wrote unto you; as also in all _his_ epistles, speaking in them of these things; wherein are some things hard to be understood, which the ignorant and unstedfast wrest, as _they do_ also the other Scriptures, unto their own destruction. Ye therefore, beloved, knowing _these things_ beforehand, beware lest, being carried away with the error of the wicked, ye fall from your own stedfastness. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

To Him _be_ the glory both now and for ever. Amen."--2 PETER iii.

14-18.

In these solemn closing words the Apostle sums up his exhortations and warnings. His admonition is of a twofold character. First, he urges the brethren to strive after stedfastness, but to beware of sinking into a careless security which may make them an easy prey to false guides. "Stand fast," he would say, "and be ever watchful against falling." Then, let your Christian life be one of steady, constant, temperate progress; let it imitate G.o.d's works in nature, which wax, man sees not how or when, by drawing constantly from the hidden sources which minister life and increase. Let believers seek thus that in their lives there may grow from G.o.d's seed of faith first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear, to yield some thirty, some sixty, some a hundredfold, to the praise and glory of the Lord of the harvest.

_Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for these things, give diligence that ye may be found in peace, without spot and blameless in His sight._ The whole pa.s.sage runs over with Christian affection; a very working out it is in a believer's life of Christ's teaching, "By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye love one another." Love to the brethren, love to his fellow-apostle, breathes in every line of these final sentences. Beloved are the Churches, beloved his fellow-labourer. And he is never weary of repeating that word "looking for," which marks the true att.i.tude of the Christian pilgrim: Seeing that ye look for the coming of the day of G.o.d. Before he had said, _We_ look for it; now he brings the lesson nearer home to every one of them: _Ye_ are looking for these things. Be ye therefore ready. Give diligence that ye may be found in peace by Christ when He appears.

Peace is the bond which clasps together the brotherhood of Christ. But things which need a bond are p.r.o.ne to break asunder, and St. Paul marks the care which is needed in this matter by using the same word (sp??d????te?) which St. Peter employs here. And his list of the virtues which make for peace shows how much anxiety is needed: "With all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering forbearing one another in love, _giving diligence_ to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. iv. 2). Such are the graces to be fostered by those who look for the Lord's coming. The Hebrew knew no n.o.bler word to use for blessing than "Peace be with you." Christ at His parting says to His disciples, "My peace I leave with you; My peace I give unto you." It embraces reconciliation with G.o.d and union with the brethren; it is a treasure worthy of all striving for, and when attained it pa.s.seth all understanding.

They who are looking for Christ will strive to become like Him. Christ came down from heaven and a.s.sumed humanity that His brethren might take courage for this lofty aim. The Apostle (1 Peter i. 19) has spoken of Him as a lamb without spot and blemish, and this ideal purity he now sets before the brethren. For he knows that to strive after it will sunder them from the corruptions of those false teachers whom he has called "spots and blemishes" (ii. 13) in the Christian society. Instead of denying the Master that bought them, they will be hearkening constantly for His voice. Thus will they become clean through the word which He speaks unto them (John xv. 3). For His voice is ever helpful; and abiding in Him, they will bring forth much fruit.

_And account that the long-suffering of our Lord is salvation._ The mockers had made the delay of G.o.d's day the subject of their scoffing.

"It tarries," said they, "because it is never coming." Their speech was, in fact, a challenge: "If it is to come, let it come now." The Christian is of another mind. His heart is full of thankfulness for the mercy which allows time for that diligence which his preparation demands. St. Paul expresses this feeling concerning G.o.d's dealings with himself: "For this cause I obtained mercy, that in me as chief might Jesus Christ show forth all His long-suffering, for an example of them which should hereafter believe on Him unto eternal life" (1 Tim. i. 16). And the opportunity thus granted him that Apostle used to the full; yet ever mindful was he not only from whom was the mercy, but also from whom came the power which was with him in his diligence: "I laboured more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of G.o.d which was with me." And in another place (Phil. i. 22), though he longs to be released from life and to be with Christ, he recognises that there may be a Divine purpose in delaying _that_ day of G.o.d also, that to live in the flesh may be the fruit of his labour; and if this be so, he is content.

For the believer thinks not only of his own salvation and his own opportunities. The Christian's faith is not selfish. He beholds how large a part of the world is not yet subject unto Christ, and owns in the delay of the day of the Lord a wealth of abundant grace, offering salvation still to all who will accept it.

_Even as our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given to him, wrote unto you._ Some, who have restricted the allusion of St.

Peter here to the "long-suffering" of G.o.d, have thought that the Epistle to the Romans is intended. That letter is the only one in which St. Paul speaks generally on this subject. In ii. 4 he asks, "Despisest thou the riches of G.o.d's goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering, not knowing that the goodness of G.o.d leadeth thee to repentance?" and, again, asks another question: "What if G.o.d, willing to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much long-suffering vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy?" (ix.

22). Others, considering the great subject of the day of G.o.d to be specially present to St. Peter's mind, have found parallels in the two epistles to the Thessalonians. It has also been pointed out that Silva.n.u.s was with St. Paul when these letters were written, and that through him (1 Peter v. 12) their import might have been brought to the knowledge of the Asiatic congregations. But we know too little of the intercommunication of the Churches of Europe and Asia to arrive at a conclusion, while the definite statement "wrote unto you" seems certainly to refer to some letter addressed to the Churches of Asia.

Among these, beside the Galatians, were the Ephesians and the Colossians. Reference has already been made to the way in which St.

Paul speaks in his first epistle to Timothy of the long-suffering of G.o.d towards himself. Would the letter to the bishop of Ephesus be held too personal for its contents in some form to be imparted to the whole Church? Then in the Ephesian epistle such a pa.s.sage as ii. 4-7 may well have been in St. Peter's thoughts: "G.o.d, being rich in mercy, ...

quickened us together with Christ, ... that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in kindness towards us in Jesus Christ," or Col. i. 19, 20: "It was the good pleasure of the Father that in Him should all the fulness dwell, and through Him to reconcile all things unto Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross." But there is no reason from St. Peter's words to a.s.sume that he is referring to an extant epistle. He may have known of a letter to the brethren in Asia of which we have no trace. Of one thing we may be sure: that his words had a definite sense for those to whom they were written.

But his reference to St. Paul has much interest for other reasons.

Among these brethren there would be current many memories of the great Apostle to whose labour the formation of these Churches was chiefly due. His name would for them add weight to St. Peter's admonitions.

The mention of the wisdom Divinely given to him would remind the Galatians at least how foolish had been their doubts and waverings in bygone days. While, as they knew how one apostle had withstood the other when he saw that he was to be blamed, such words as these from St. Peter would come with double force. Most of all, while the teachers of error were perverting St. Paul's language for an occasion to the flesh, it was good that the Churches should be reminded that he ever taught men to strive after lives without spot and blemish and had given no licence to the excesses for which his words were offered as a warrant.

_As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things._ From this it appears that it is the whole drift of St. Peter's letter, its warnings as well as its counsels, which is in harmony with the words of St. Paul. But we need not a.s.sume that St. Peter's readers were acquainted with all the fellow-Apostle's writings. He is telling them what his own experience has proved.

_Wherein are some things hard to be understood, which the ignorant and unstedfast wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, unto their own destruction._ This pa.s.sage is noteworthy as the only place in the New Testament in which the writings of the Apostles are regarded as ranking with the Scriptures of the old covenant. Everywhere else "Scripture" means the Old Testament. Yet, as the Apostles were pa.s.sing away, it must have begun to be felt that a time was coming when great authority would attach to their words, as of persons who had seen the Lord. St. Peter has just spoken of the wisdom which was given to St.

Paul. That wisdom came from the same source as the illumination of the prophets; and it is not unnatural, after such an allusion, that his writings should be cla.s.sed with those of old time. Both were subjected to the same treatment. So perversely had the Old Testament been read that when He came of whom it spake--came to those who held the volume in their hands, and who regarded it with much show of reverence--He was not recognised. His people had blinded their eyes.

Just so was it faring with that "freedom" of which St. Paul had said so much to the Galatian Church. Wrested from its true meaning, it was put forward as if it gave warranty and encouragement for the life of the libertine.

That many things in the writings of St. Paul are difficult to comprehend is beyond question. He more than any of the New Testament writers works out the principles of Christ's teaching in their consequences. He deals most fully with the great questions which circle round the doctrine of redemption; with election and justification; with the casting off of G.o.d's ancient people and the certainty of their restoration; with the objects of faith, the things hoped for, but as yet unseen; with the resurrection of the body and the changes which shall pa.s.s upon it; and with the nature of the life to come. He of all men realised to the full the length, and breadth, and depth, and height of the love of G.o.d, and spake in his letters of much which pa.s.seth knowledge.

But in St. Peter's word (d?s???ta) "hard to be understood"

there appears to be the thought that men's difficulties arise in part because they look on these subjects as studies for the intellect (????) alone, and fail for this reason to attain to the best knowledge which is given to man. It is of G.o.d's order that for the lessons which come from Him He also imparts the power of true discernment. Those who approach the study of Christian truth as a cold intellectual exercise, in the comprehension of which heart and soul bear no part, will go away empty, and as dark almost as they come.

The "wresting" of which St. Peter here speaks may come either of the misuse of single terms, just as the apostles of licence put a wrong sense, for their own ends, on St. Paul's "liberty," or it may be the effect of severing a lesson from its occasion and its context. Such perversion also happened to St. Paul's doctrine. To those who, like the Galatians, had been drawn back to an undue estimate of the legal ordinances of Judaism, the Apostle, as a corrective, had exalted faith far above outward observances; and there soon arose those who under his language sheltered themselves in a dissolute Antinomianism. The same befell in later days when Agricola and the Solifidians perverted Luther's teaching of justification by faith. And when such misleading guides find hearers who are "ignorant and unstedfast," the false lessons, which always have the frailties of humanity to back them, gain many adherents. To the thoughtless such teaching is seductive, and is unsuspected because it puts on a semblance of affinity with truth. Hence grow those ruptures of the Christian body, those heresies which lead to destruction (ii. 1).

_Ye therefore, beloved, knowing these things beforehand, beware lest, being carried away with the error of the wicked, ye fall from your own stedfastness._ In the first chapter the Apostle has already (ver. 12) addressed the converts as those who knew the things of which he wrote and needed only to be put in mind, who were established in the truth, and not to be cla.s.sed with the ignorant and unstedfast. Yet for all there is need of watchfulness. The lies which are abroad clothe themselves in the garb of truth, wresting the Scriptures.

"Therefore," says he, "guard yourselves" (f???sses?e). The word is not only a notice against dangers from without, but an admonition to watchfulness within. The wandering of the lawless may beguile; to many it has attractions. But if they join that company and follow with them, the end will be a shipwreck of the whole Christian life. The verb (??p?pte??) is that which we find (Acts xxvii. 26, 29) in the description of the wreck at Melita, when the sailors feared lest they should be cast ash.o.r.e on rocky ground. It is against a moral peril of even more terrible character that St. Peter warns the Churches; and the contrast is most instructive which is pictured in the two words by which he defines error and stedfastness.

The former (p????) betokens a ceaseless wandering, a life without a plan, a voyage without rudder or compa.s.s, every stage made in doubt, uncertainty, and peril; the other word st??????) tells of firmness, fixity, and strength, and comes fitly into the exhortation of that Apostle whose charge was, "When thou art converted, strengthen" (st??????) "thy brethren" (Luke xxii. 32). "This stedfastness," he says, "is now your own" (?d???); "barter it not away for any illusions of wayward error."

_But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ._ As if to attest his own stedfastness; he ends as he had begun. "Grace unto you and peace be multiplied," was the opening greeting of his first letter, to which in his second he adds, "through the knowledge of G.o.d and of Jesus our Lord." But there is great significance in the way in which St. Peter's words hang together in this verse. The structure of the sentence shows that he intends to say not only that grace is the gift of Jesus Christ, but that from Him comes also all knowledge that is worthy of the name, a lesson most fitting and most necessary in those days, when teachers, who claimed to be possessors of a special higher knowledge, were denying Jesus altogether both as Master and as Judge. "Root yourselves in Christ,"

is the apostolic charge; "seek His help; walk by His light. Thus only can your power increase; thus only can your way be safe."

_To Him be the glory both now and for ever. Amen._ This is the end of the Apostles labour: that Christ may be glorified in His servants; that they may know Him here as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, hereafter as the High-priest of His people, but deigning to become the First-born among many brethren. For those who find Him here and there also eternity will be too short to show forth all His praise.

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